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Ramona Gia

In 1982, the California Legislature passed a bill sponsored by the California Teachers Association and the Association of Mexican American Educators that proclaimed the second Wednesday of May as Day of the Teacher. This commemoration is patterned after the traditional "El Dia del Maestro" festivity observed in Mexico and other Latin American countries. On May 8 of this year, we honor Kern County teachers.

Because California's tax dollars barely cover necessities, teachers often work on their own time to seek out and implement programs and activities that give their students extra opportunities for expanded horizons.

Sylvia Guzman and Gigi Maurer of Thorner Elementary School have coached students since 1990 for both the Bakersfield City School District and Kern County oral language festivals, and their pupils have consistently taken top honors. Much of that success is because they and the pupils practice more than six hours a week outside of school time to perfect their skills. The two teachers also coach History Day, and their teams are quite successful there, too. I asked pupils what the experiences meant to them, and all told me that participation made them feel special, helped them overcome shyness, and taught them to think and speak clearly.

Nick Olmos of College Heights Elementary School continues the mariachi tradition his father started there. During the past six years the Mariachi Group and College Heights Orchestra have performed at Disneyland and before one of the recent Bakersfield Community Concerts. Their success comes at a cost of two hours a day of teacher and pupil personal time -- before school starts and after the final bell rings. That's what it takes to perfect winning musical skills. Their payoff is the pleasure of the shared experience and common goals and acquisition of lifelong skills. The pride is obvious. Olmos said he hears from former students who continue to play for the community and professional groups.

Two years ago, Mira Monte High School counselor Jose Garza searched for a program that would motivate his high-achieving, economically vulnerable students to attend top-rated colleges, and he found the Ivy League Project that had been successful in encouraging students like his to attend East Coast colleges. Garza developed the Ivy League Project on his own time. The yearlong process teaches students how to apply for scholarships and how to prepare for oral interviews.

Twice a month, Garza's team travels to Tulare to meet in workshops with similar students from other San Joaquin Valley towns, listen to guest speakers, and meet face to face with alumni from Ivy League schools. Jesse Toledo, Mira Monte's community outreach specialist, helps the students with the fundraising needed to pay the East Coast travel expenses, which are about $2,300 each. In the spring, students in the valleywide project visit Ivy League schools. As one student confided, "I didn't think I could really attend there until I set foot on the campus. When I saw it, I felt it was mine, and I would be comfortable there."

The dedication and commitment of these representative educators is awesome, but hundreds of other Kern County teachers see unmet student needs and then proceed to donate their own time to stretch student abilities and expand their expectations. Success depends on the imagination, dedication, and energy of the teachers who initiate the programs, but also on the moral and financial support of colleagues, parents and communities. Ultimately, the pride that parents show when their children succeed and the bonds formed between school and family are priceless.

Kern County teachers, you are making a positive difference in the lives of our students. Thank you for what you are doing. Happy Day of the Teacher!

Ramona Gia taught for 24 years in the Bakersfield City School District. She is communications chairwoman for the Kern Division of the California Retired Teachers Association. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.